Entering this past week, the Chicago Blackhawks were still in the hunt for the playoffs. With three vital games against the Nashville Predators, the Hawks needed to capture six points to realistically keep their playoff dreams alive.
Monday, April 19: Third-period meltdown dooms the Blackhawks
After an energized 10 minutes of action from the Blackhawks, the Predators took over. The recently returned Matt Duchene got Nashville on the board early. Alex DeBrincat tied the game up later on the power play on a nifty pass from Pius Suter.
Calle Jarnkrok scored to put the Predators up by one at 2–1. Following another defensive lapse, Mattias Ekholm made the score 3–1 in favor of Nashville. With the game slipping away, an unlikely scorer cut the gap to one, as David Kampf netted his first goal of the second to close the margin to 3–2.
— Charlie Roumeliotis (@CRoumeliotis) April 20, 2021
In the third period, Kevin Lankinen surrendered two early goals to put the game out of reach. In a rare move, Head Coach Jeremy Colliton then pulled Lankinen from the game. The final score was Nashville 5, Blackhawks 2.
Wednesday, April 21: Blackhawks’ impressive third period snatches victory from the jaws of defeat
In a game where the Blackhawks needed their stars to rise to the top, the team was instead lead by the energetic Brandon Hagel. Hagel found Suter for the first Blackhawks goal of the game. It would then be all Nashville with four unanswered goals.
In the third period, The young offensive defenseman Wyatt Kalynuk cut the gap to 4–2 with a tap-in goal from Patrick Kane. The recently re-acquired Vinnie Hinostroza kept the comeback moving along with his first goal of the season. Dominik Kubalik then scored the equalizer to knot the game up at 4–4.
In overtime, Hagel struck by roofing a shot past Juuse Saros for a thrilling 5–4 comeback victory.
— Charlie Roumeliotis (@CRoumeliotis) April 22, 2021
Friday, April 23: The day the season ended for the Blackhawks
The Blackhawks had an 11% chance of making the playoff entering the third and final game of the week. After playing inspired hockey in the third period on Wednesday, the Blackhawks could not find their offensive rhythm in the opening 20 minutes this time around. Malcolm Subban did his best to keep the Blackhawks in this game, but ultimately his 25-save effort was not enough. Nashville got goals from Ryan Johansen, Luke Kunin and Erik Haula.
The Blackhawks would get a late third goal from Hinostroza to make the final score 3–1. With that loss, the Blackhawks’ playoff chances went from long to non-existent. Now, the focus of this team should be on younger players for the rest of the season.
Analysis: The curious case of Dylan Strome
With the season on the line, Colliton decided to healthy scratch Dylan Strome on Wednesday and Friday. Strome was on the ice a half-hour before game time on Friday before being pulled from the lineup. The move is puzzling because the Blackhawks have had a tough time scoring and winning faceoffs against the Predators this season. In their eight games this season, the Hawks averaged just 1.75 goals against the Predators. That is their worst goals-for percentage against an opponent this season.
In terms of faceoffs, Nashville ranks sixth in the NHL while the Blackhawks rank 28th in the league. Personally, Strome has a faceoff win percentage of 47%, which is the second-highest mark on the team behind only Kampf. Meanwhile, the top three guys on Nashville are over 50%, with Colton Sissons leading at 54.3%. With all of those facts under consideration, it makes the move for Colliton to bench Strome in favor of icing seven defensemen even more puzzling.
Could Strome’s benchings be an indication of his future with the Blackhawks? This is one of the many questions that will be facing the organization during the rest of the regular season and in the offseason.